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Hugh Hood

Hugh Hood - born in Toronto, Ontario, April 30, 1928, died in Montreal, Quebec, August 1, 2000 - was a novelist, short story writer, essayist. Hood wrote 32 books: seventeen novels, several volumes of short fiction, and five of nonfiction.

Table of contents
5 Bibliography
6 External links
7 Additional reading
8 Bibliographies
9 Manuscript Collections
10 Critical Studies
11 Sources Cited


St. Joseph College, West Hartford, CT, associate professor, 1955-61; Université de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec, professor of English, 1961-2000.


President's Medals from University of Western Ontario, 1963, for story, and 1968, for article; Beta Sigma Phi prize, 1965; Canada Council, grants, 1968 and 1977, awards, 1971 and 1974; award from Province of Ontario, 1974; award from City of Toronto, 1976; Queen's Jubilee Medal, 1977; QSPELL Prize for best novel, Quebec Society for the Promotion of English Language and Literature, 1988; Officer of the Order of Canada, 1988.


Hugh Hood told 'Contemporary Authors': "My primary motivation for writing is a need or wish to give expression to my sense of what is real, and especially what is the most real of all things or states of being. The most influential aspect of reality for me is the ultimate reality which we call God.

"My writing process is too complex--or too muddled--to be described . . . but I can say that it begins with observation and continues with reflection, ending in partial understanding.

"My whole experience of life has gone into my work. The product of this process is The New Age and the books that stand beside it and support it. I should conclude by remarking that I have completed a first draft of the final volume of The New Age, so my series is substantively complete. The first draft could be published with light copy- editing, if some reason (i.e., my death of an illness) should keep me from finishing a final draft."


Hugh Hood comments:

(1971) My interest in the sound of sentences, in the use of colour words and the names of places, in practical stylistics, showed me that prose fiction might have an abstract element, a purely formal element, even though it continued to be strictly, morally realistic. It might be possible to think of prose fiction the way one thinks of abstract elements in representational painting, or of highly formal music.... It's the seeing-into-things, the capacity for meditative abstraction, that interests me about philosophy, the arts and religious practice. I love most in painting an art that exhibits the transcendental element dwelling in living things. I think of this as true super-realism. And I think of Vermeer, or among American artists of Edward Hopper, whose paintings of ordinary places, seaside cottages, a roadside snack bar and gasoline station, have touched some level of my own imagination which I can only express in fictional images.... Like Vermeer or Hopper or that great creator of musical form, Joseph Haydn, I'm trying to concentrate on knowable form as it lives in the physical world. These forms are abstract, not in the sense of being inhumanly non-physical but in the sense of communicating the perfection of the essences of things--the formal realities that create things as they are in themselves. A transcendentalist must first study the things of this world, and get as far inside them as possible.... That is where I come out: the spirit is totally in the flesh. If you pay close enough attention to things, stare at them, concentrate on them as hard as you can, not just with your intelligence, but with your feelings and instincts, you will begin to apprehend the forms in them.... The illuminations in things are there, really and truly there, in those things. They are not run over then by the projective intelligence, and yet there is a sense in which the mind, in uniting itself to things, creates illumination in them.... The poetry of Wordsworth supplies us again and again with examples of this imaginative colouring spread over incidents and situations from everyday life.... Like Wordsworth, I have at all times endeavoured to look steadily at my subjects. I hope my gaze has helped to light them up.

(1978) I am trying to assimilate the mode of the novel to the mode of fully-developed Christian allegory, in ways that I don't fully understand. I want to be more "real" than the realists, yet more transcendent than the most vaporous allegorist. In short, I am following what I conceive the method of Dante.... Now let me put it to you that since I am both a realist and a transcendentalist allegorist that I cannot be bound by the forms of ordinary realism.

(1979) I think it would be marvellous for Canada if we had one artist who could move easily and in a familiar converse with Joyce, and Tolstoy, and Proust; and I intend to be that artist if I possibly can; and I am willing to give the rest of my life to it. I don't say that to put down Margaret Atwood or to make Margaret Laurence seem insignificant. That isn't my point at all. I want simply--and I think every artist does--to do what I think I can do as fully, and as powerfully, and as many-modally, and as exhaustively, as I can.... I really want to endow the country with a great imperishable work of art. If I do, it will be the first one that we have. I think it would make an enormous difference to the confidence of this country if we did have one thing like the plays of Shakespeare or War and Peace or A la recherche du temps perdu, and we knew it, and were sure of it. Jalna, ha, ha, won't do. It isn't good enough. I think that The New Age and the works of mine which go with it and around it will be good enough, and I think it will do a lot for the country.

(1995) I am now, February 1995, at work on the eleventh volume (of twelve) in the novel sequence The New Age/Le nouveau siècle, which I've been working on since I began to make notes for the project in late 1966. The first volume actually appeared, as The Swing in the Garden, in 1975, and the final book in the series is scheduled for publication at the end of 1999 when the "new age" will really be directly in front of us as new century and new millennium. At this moment I can feel myself beginning to wonder how it will feel to write the closing page. Now I can suspect what Gibbon, Proust, and Joyce of Finnegans Wake (seventeen years in the making) must have gone through towards the end, an end that Proust unfortunately never saw. Temptations and distractions of a long work!

Hugh Hood is a writer in whom pedantry wars with creative gifts of a high order. His best work so far occurs in his short stories which demonstrate his mastery at revealing what is immense through what is small. He is an indefatigable explorer of human aspiration, conveying much of its mystery, heroism, and comedy. An impassioned drive towards some symbolic victory is celebrated seriously or gaily in such stories as "Silver Bugles, Cymbals, Golden Silks" (Flying a Red Kite), "The Pitcher" (Dark Glasses), and "Le Grand Déménagement" (Around the Mountain). His art is at its finest in "Looking Down from Above" (Around the Mountain), where separate characters connect in a visionary moment of great beauty, crowded like a medieval tapestry with life: "inscrutable but undeniable."

Hood's earlier novels have something of this imaginative intensity, as in the burning warehouse scene (A Game of Touch), an incident pivotal to the hero's fate and a keystone in the novel's structure. However, Hood is unable to control the tone of his prose over the long course of a novel. When the painter in White Figure, White Ground retreats to the safety of his old manner and family life, Hood's point of view is unclear. Although the hard urbanity and narrow sympathies of the wife offend, it is uncertain whether the artist's glorification of her is to be received with irony or approval. In The Camera Always Lies, a romance, Hood's continuing problem with creating likeable characters re-emerges. A romance requires archetypal figures on whom fantasies can be projected: yet "virtuous" Rose Leclair, suffering through near-death and rebirth, is a bore, the hero who saves her an overbearing prig. Precise detail of film financing, production, and costume design merely throws into relief Hood's difficulty with his characters. You Cant Get There from Here, set in an imaginary African nation, is both a study of struggle in a new society and "Christological [except]...that the Christ figure does not rise again...." Because he is writing satire and allegory, Hood must be excused for missing opportunities of further defining the two tribes, and of describing the personal history of his sketchy hero; but his Cabinet villains need sharper outlines to succeed either as allegory or satire.

When Hood attempts in The New Age, a serial novel in twelve volumes of which eight have been completed, to work on the scale of "Coleridge, Joyce, Tolstoy, and Proust," his inadequacies become obvious. He is striving for "a very wide range of reference without apparent connection on the surface which nonetheless will yield connections and networks and links and unities if you wait and allow them to appear." Moving back and forth through time, the huge project includes passages of philosophy, social history, topography, and lectures on a broad variety of topics, as well as the fictionalized incidents of his own life.

As a simultaneous "realist and transcendental allegorist" (his admitted aim), Hood falls short in these novels, for although characters and events have a formal importance, they rarely achieve emotive significance. The marriage in A New Athens, for instance, is never felt as the redemptive force intended, because Edie is no more than a shadow, and Matt Goderich remains, as one character observes, "a pompous ass." Too often Hood offers neither psychological nor pictorial realism, but the factuality of an encyclopedia or a catalogue. Obsessive lists of, for example, baseball players (The Swing in the Garden) suggest an inability to select. Local history and neighborhood cartography too often supply the substance rather than the raw material of these fictions. Pedantic tenacity in description cannot of itself invest places or objects with meaning, nor is Hood's style sufficiently adept, usually, to produce this result by its own power. He even slips into bathos with the showpiece engagement scenes in A New Athens and Reservoir Ravine. His uninspired prose has created a bland, provincial world where values do not develop organically, but are imposed from without. Only when he writes of marvels does the reader's interest freshen, as with the appearance of the visionary painter (A New Athens). Striving to write a masterpiece, Hood is so concerned with large patterns and themes that he fails to breathe life into the material of which these patterns are composed. Heterogeneity can succeed only for the writer gifted enough to consume disparate materials in the unifying fire of his art; but, with one third of the sequence still to come, Hood may yet produce work on a level comparable to that of the short stories.

Of course critical assessments may vary strikingly from one person to another; indeed, judgments frequently say as much about readers' assumptions as they do about writers' achievements. Perhaps genius needs to create--that is, to educate--its own audience, an audience that appreciates and quite possibly revels in the idiosyncrasies that some readers find disconcerting. A number of volumes so far in Hood's sequence, including The Swing in the Garden, A New Athens, Black and White Keys, Property and Value, and Dead Men's Watches, have been received with considerable enthusiasm by individual reviewers and critics. With time--and with the altered understanding that further attention, different assumptions, and a broader perspective can bring--The New Age may win the distinguished audience that its advocates believe it deserves. With the completion of the last two of twelve volumes as we reach a new millennium, the overall design and the inner workings of the sequence will certainly become clearer. Perhaps then The New Age will stand as Hood envisioned it twenty-five years earlier: "I hope it will be an enormous image, an enormous social mythology, an enormous prism to rotate, to see yourself and your neighbors and friends and your grandparents."


Novels Short Story Non-Fiction

External links

Additional reading


"A Bibliography of Works by and on Hugh Hood," in Before the Flood: Our Examination round His Factification for Incamination of Hugh Hood's Work in Progress, edited by J.R. (Tim) Struthers, Downsview, Ontario, ECW Press, 1979 , and "Hugh Hood: An Annotated Bibliography" also by Struthers, in The Annotated Bibliography of Canada's Major Authors: Volume Five, edited by Robert Lecker and Jack David, Downsview, Ontario, ECW Press, 1984

"Hood, Hugh (1928--)" by Allan Weiss, in his A Comprehensive Bibliography of English-Canadian Short Stories, 1950-1983, Toronto, ECW Press, 1988 .

Manuscript Collections

The University of Calgary Libraries, Alberta.

Critical Studies

Sources Cited

Document Number: H1000046918

Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2003. " class="external">

Document Number: K1659000294